Sorry about the delay on this post. I know I usually post on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s, but yesterday my back went crazy on me and I had to go to an acupuncturist for the pain and spend the rest of the day in bed. I don’t own a laptop, so this had to wait. My apologies, as I really like being consistent. This week has been humbling.
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit more about songwriting, as that’s what I’m doing with a new client in the studio today. He’s given me a bunch of songs to listen to and critique, then we’re going to pick five of the fourteen to record.
What leapt out at me when I listened to these new songs were the melodies which were quite good and then the lyrics which were simply not developed. So many times at open mics or on demos or, regrettably, on many hit songs that you never hear again, are undeveloped ideas.
A singer will be singing his heart out to lyrics like, “I’ll never forget the things we did together, the places we saw together and the feelings we felt” This is practically a political statement by one of our dismal representatives…words that somehow convey not one actual fact, idea, solution, description or reason for being uttered.
The only way we can connect with lyrics is if they resonate in our minds and hearts. “The things we did together” doesn’t actually say anything. WHAT did you do together? Pony rides, whips and chains, walk in the woods? You know, give us something that we can actually see. Give us the kind of details that are alive. Here’s an exercise for you:
“We met at the Red Pony
on the coast of Monterey,
you said you liked martini’s dry,
as the sunlight slipped away.
We laughed at karaoke,
we toasted one and all,
it didn’t seem like time had passed
until we heard “last call”.
I just wrote this off the top of my head for you to see and think about. I don’t think it’s the greatest lyric every written, but there is a story here, a location, some activity, a journey implied, a feeling of a destination to be reached. Let's examine it. I started out including more than me…
”we met at the red pony”. I used the red pony for two reasons, one it’s got some colour in it and it has a figure that we all can picture, and two, it’s a story by Steinbeck and probably subliminally familiar to many people. So we have a slightly familiar setting. I narrow it down by placing it in Monterey, where so many of Steinbeck’s stories took place. Not to mention the fact that that particular coast is one of the most photographed coasts in the country. It has a reputation as a romantic place, so it seemed a natural.
Next some action or conversation, “you said you liked martini’s dry”. More familiarity, it’s a drink everyone has heard of and also happens to be my fave, so I put it in there. Something I’m familiar with. Putting into songs things that you actually know about always give the song a ring of truth that resonates as such. No b.s.
“as the sunlight slipped away” this, for me has several interpretations, the most obvious being the day is blending into the night. It could also be that the joy began to ebb, if perhaps the person singing the song was actually in love with someone else who was no longer in the picture for whatever reason. The entire song could go that way, tho I chose to make it unfold as a spontaneous evening of joy. But we still don't know where it's going.
“we laughed at karaoke” who hasn’t?
“we toasted one and all” anyone who’s had more than one drink or been around someone who has knows that people either get really happy or really sad under the influence. This is a fun evening, so it had to go that way.
“until we heard last call” now the real story is about to unfold. But where will it go? This is where you come in.
Where are you going to take this? Let me hear from you with the development, okay?
And I want to remind you that you must use images, descriptions, implied stories, implied destinations, momentum. Make us think this is going somewhere and then take us there, otherwise it’s just running in place. Exercise, but not fun.